Poor Will's Almanack for the Second Week of Late Fall.
A few weeks ago I was walking Bella, our border collie, through the alley around a quarter after nine in the morning. The maples were just turning then, the serviceberries and the hackberries half down. I could hear starlings and grackles ahead of me to the north, and I hurried down to see them.
Past the apple tree, I came under the cries and the rushing of the great flock. They knew where they were going: southeast, stopping in the branches above me for a just few seconds, calling to one another, looking out above the high canopy, then hurrying, diving on, one after another.
I was swept away and then held tight in their direction and their certainty. They covered me up, it seemed, in their numbers. Their whirring, chortling migration filled the space between the street and the silver maple where I stood.
The tent of this flock's passage was such a safe place against the cold ahead. The coverlet was force enough, fortification against what would surely come, filtering and sorting through, in just this instant in the alley, the daunting approach of the winter, and giving me a balance like the birds themselves must have felt, pulled by time and context out into the autumn sky.
Surrounded, I had no place left to turn: the starlings and the grackles had taken all the options. I stood loved, cradled, suspended, caressed, enfolded in a blanket of pinions, here on this familiar ground, in the presence of the white asters with red centers and the violet asters with arrowhead leaves and the last yellow spikes of Jerusalem artichokes.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the third week of late fall. In the meantime, watch for birds: they’ll keep you safe.